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The Importance of Social Value in Architecture

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HLM are committed to a sustainable future. We have made the bold statement that everything we design by 2025 will meet the RIBA’s 2030 sustainability targets, however we believe that there are other ways that can further increase the value we get from the built environment.

The rise of mixed-use developments continues, with offices, retail and leisure often being combined within larger projects. But there’s still more we can do to create buildings that provide added value to their localities and that can reach a greater use potential than ever before.

The new school, Ysgol Pen Rhos, is in one of the most deprived areas in Wales with high levels of unemployment, crime, and substance abuse. The school replaces a derelict, once heavily industrial, highly contaminated brownfield site, prone to vandalism and antisocial behaviour. The design enables improved, inclusive educational delivery through flexible design, which is adaptable to changes in the curriculum.

Headteacher Joe Cudd told us how the new school acts as a beacon for change;

“The new school is at the centre of change in this part of Llanelli and the children at Ysgol Pen Rhos are the community of tomorrow.  The building itself is fantastic, offering opportunity and experiences to our children that reflect the changing educational landscape in Wales. Ysgol Pen Rhos is at the beginning of a transformative period, it will become the new exemplar of 21st Century multi-agency, collaborative learning with children and families at the heart of what we do.  Our children chose the furniture, the teachers modelled their classrooms, the community we serve is ready to embrace and share the new magical school we have – ready for the future and ready to learn.”

The Local Authorities challenged HLM to develop solutions to tackle both the tangible and intangible sustainability issues, and to transform the site into a thriving new school. This brief has resulted in a dynamic and responsive building, which re-integrates the contaminated brownfield site into the heart of Llanelli.

Ysgol Pen Rhos has created a new community hub in Llanelli, with facilities that can be utilised by locals. With sustainability as a key driver, the design focusses on employment, access and community inclusion as well as reducing carbon, water usage and enhancing local ecology, and achieved BREEAM Excellent on inspection.

Studio Director, Gareth Woodfin, said,

“Ysgol Pen Rhos has been a catalyst for regeneration and has become a real driver for economic benefit and change in the local area. It is now a thriving learning environment that can be shared with the community, improving wellbeing, and inspiring the next generation of learners in one of Wales’s most socially and economically-deprived areas.”

Retrofitting buildings has already become a more common practice, and we are proud to have adopted and applied a similar approach to this site, which may have otherwise remained as wasteland for years to come. When retrofitting is not applicable or appropriate, we need to consider how the new buildings of the future can provide us with greater value. Through careful consideration of the delicate nature of the site, and appreciation of its history combined with a vision for the future, we have created a development that facilitates greater community inclusion and a sense of ownership for the people of Llanelli.

As architects, we have a responsibility to utilise the many tools available to us to provide places and spaces that push traditional boundaries, delight end users, and benefit the wider society. The new school brings together and celebrates people, innovation, community, and the environment, and is a prime example of how we can create places that bring greater social value to the community.